Symptoms and Signs of Retinoblastoma (Eye Cancer)

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 4/12/2022

Doctor's Notes on Retinoblastoma (Eye Cancer)

Retinoblastoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the retina. It may occur at any age but occurs most often in children less than 2 years old. Retinoblastoma occurs in heritable and nonheritable forms (most frequent form) and either in one or both eyes. Signs and symptoms may include the

  • pupil of the eye appearing white instead of red when a light shines into the eye (like with flash photos),
  • eye infection,
  • lazy eye (eye looking in different directions),
  • eye redness or pain,
  • one eye appears larger than the other, and
  • the iris and pupil look cloudy.

The cause of most retinoblastomas (nonheritable forms) is not understood and is not the same as the heritable form; the heritable form is related to a mutation in the RB1 gene. However, experts recommend genetic counseling for parents and patients with either type of retinoblastoma.

What Are the Treatments for Retinoblastoma?

Treatments for retinoblastoma include the following:

  • Chemotherapy: drugs used IV, injected near the tumor or injected directly into the eye
  • Radiation therapy: local radiation (placed in a disc) implanted near the tumor or external beams focused on the tumor
  • Laser therapy: Laser uses heat to kill tumor cells.
  • Cryotherapy: freeze-killing of tumor cells
  • Eye removal surgery: enucleation (eye removal); often with surgery to facilitate fitting of an artificial eye

Your doctors can help you with choices of treatment that best fit your problem.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.